Smashin’ and crashin’ at Field Days demolition derby
NEW HAVEN — On the first night of the No. 1 Auto Parts Demolition Derby last week, 64 vehicular hulks that would never be allowed on public streets each made a hard, metal-twisting drive for victory and a piece of a $1,400 cash purse in what is arguably the biggest night of the Addison County Fair and Field Days. The lineup included 22 six-cylinder beaters, 22 four-cylinder rattletraps, 10 eight-cylinders jalopies, eight past-their-prime minivans and two pickup trucks that didn’t have a lot of pickup left in them.
The evening began well before the start time of the event, in the pit as cars rolled into the staging area on trailers two hours before the first heat.
Ashley Kennett of Glens Falls, N.Y., was annoyed; as she was driving her car to the pit, the gas pump gave out, leaving her without a ride on the first night’s race. This was her first year competing in the derby.
“It’s a lifetime experience,” she said. “I worked hard on my car and now I don’t have one. I just want do it once and say I did it.”
For Kilie Martell of Starksboro, this was his 14th year competing in the derby. He was driving the same car he’d driven for the past three years: a 1991 Lincoln Town Car complete with wood paneling.
“There’s nothing better than the sound of the motor and the crunch of metal,” he said. “It’s like nothing you’ll ever feel anywhere else.”
Preparing a vehicle for the derby is mostly stripping it down to its minimum. The vehicles were all hardtops and were missing windows, door handles, wheel weights and trim (windshields were optional). Any four-wheel-drive vehicles had one drive shaft removed to level the playing field. Tires were stock size. Each car had a 15-inch-by-12-inch hole cut in its hood to afford easy access in case firefighters needed quick access to an overheated engine.
And then there were the paint jobs. Spray paint of varying colors was the coating of choice with numbers, names, love notes and slogans matched to the brightly colored hubcaps and hoods. Here is a selection (spelled verbatim):
“Hit me or I’ll hit you”
When he was 14, Moose Porter nearly died in a car accident (on the road, not at the derby), breaking nearly every bone on the left side of his body. Nevertheless, the Ferrisburgh resident has been competing over the past 10 years. Now, at the age of 34, he was back to drive in a 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier with the number 38 painted on the side.
“I should be dead or in a wheelchair,” he said. “I’m a long way from either.”
And having competed for 10 years in the derby, he said he’s picked up a few helpful tips — like using the rear end of the car more than the front.
“It keeps your engine safe and cool,” he said.
After a drivers meeting, the six-cylinders were ready to roll in the first two heats of the night, delivering loud performances with plenty of action. A large pile-up that left much of the field disabled early into the first heat divided in half the pit in front of the grandstand and in the grass, which was crammed with cheering spectators. Joshua Benning and Aaron Desabrais were stuck on one side of the pile and Brett Williams and Mark Billing Jr. on the other. Benning and Desabrais exhausted their cars, leaving Williams and Billing as co-winners in the first heat. Other V-6 action included an impressive comeback by Ashley Boddington, who after sustaining significant damage, appeared to be out of the fight, but somehow lurched forward to claim third, behind Nick Ouchette and Gary Grant.
The slightly smaller V-4 cars were able to maneuver more inside the ring and delivered their share of hits including when Brian Blake nearly flipped Ashley Moulton over the concrete barrier. When the dust settled, Moose Porter in car 38 suddenly found himself the last man standing. When he came up to the announcer’s box to collect his winnings and trophy, he was visibly shaking from the adrenaline pumping through his veins.
“I’m jacked up,” he nearly shouted.
Porter was candid in explaining his winning strategy.
“I didn’t pick any favorites,” he said. “I just went out there and drove what I drove. I took my share of hits, though.”
Between heats, up to 10 minutes would pass, during which two forklifts carried, pushed or dragged any remaining wrecks off the field. The only cars that drove out of the ring were the winners, who were not permitted to perform any maintenance between their heat and the final feature.
For being one of the smallest heats, the pickup truck and minivan division was considered by many the most exciting. The majority of the vans were Dodge Caravans and the pickup trucks were older varieties. From the start, the two pickup trucks established dominance over the field, smacking around the more unwieldy vans until they were diminished by a third of their original length. The exposed steel end of Garrett Bucks’ truck dealt devastating blows to competitors left and right, causing the frame of Bret Wood’s truck to collapse. But Gary English and Ed Snacket Sr. teamed up on Bucks, causing him to lose a tire in the final moments of the heat. With one wheel riding on a rim, the two were able to slow him down enough to finish him off. English won, with Snacket second.
The final feature brought the most drama to the evening. By this time, some of the audience had dispersed, having seen their friends and family members compete and eventually bow out, but the 12 finalists limped their way back into the ring. Some had flat tires, others leaked smoke from under the hood and others seemed to be more twisted and mangled than drivable but nonetheless, the remaining crowd counted them down and the drivers threw the cars in reverse one last time.
It was Cameron Eaton from Danby whose car seemed to be in best condition and had both size and speed working in his favor. From the start, Eaton’s black V-6 asserted itself over the rest of the field, but Brian Blake Jr. of Cornwall proved to be a scrappy opponent and was unwilling to go down without a fight. The final minutes of the feature consisted of Eaton and Blake alternating pushing and dragging the other from one end of the pit to the other. At one point their cars became entangled and for a few moments appeared that a draw might be imminent as the drivers struggled with screaming engines to pull themselves free, but Eaton, with the help of a larger and more intact engine was able to extract himself and deliver one last hit, causing Blake’s vehicle to pour smoke.
Eaton said following the race that the condition of the car made the difference.
“I had about half of the car left,” he said. “There’s some strategy, but it was mostly luck.”
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